A Marin County residents’ group that advocates for racial equity and diversity is urging the community to weigh in on a proposed citizens oversight board to monitor the Sheriff’s Office ahead of the supervisors’ consideration of a detailed civilian oversight proposal next month.

The idea for a citizens oversight board stems from a June 2022 Civil Grand Jury report titled “Sheriff Oversight: The Time is Now,” which outlined a “strained” and distrustful relationship between law enforcement and residents in unincorporated Marin City.

The report and its recommendations were compiled in the wake of Assembly Bill 1185, passed in the fall of 2020, which allows counties to create citizens’ oversight boards. The jury pointed out that the job has previously fallen to the Marin County Board of Supervisors — though in some counties the sheriff answers to no one. Sheriffs are elected but do not report to any county official.

An excerpt from the June 15, 2022, Marin County Civil Grand Jury’s 12-page report recommending oversight of the county Sheriff’s Office. The Board of Supervisors will consider the recommendations at its June 13 meeting. (Marin County Civil Grand Jury)

Following the grand jury report, the Marin County Board of Supervisors made a commitment to establish an independent community oversight structure for the Sheriff’s Office.

Last September, a community outreach working group (COWG) of 15 people was formed to conduct outreach to the community and stakeholders and to research effective community oversight models.

The COWG came up with various options that the Board of Supervisors can consider when implementing their recommendations. Principally, they recommend developing a civilian oversight commission (COC) and appointing an Inspector General to perform functions such as coordinating complaint investigations, monitoring jail facilities, making policy recommendations and carrying out audits.

One preferred option

The working group came up with three options for the implementation of civilian oversight, complete with cost estimates. However, it only recommends one option, the report to the supervisors said, but developed two others at the body’s request to have more than one choice.

Option One, COWG’s top recommendation, would cost the county $708,600 annually and would staff an Inspector General at up to just under $300,000, a senior program coordinator at up to $177,000 and an administrative services associate at up to $157,000.

Remaining costs would include stipends for members of the civilian oversight commission, training and education, community engagement and hiring outside contractors, totaling $80,000.

The other two options, both of which COWG said it “strongly opposed,” would involve only having a full-time Inspector General and an administrative service associate at $531,718 per year or a contracted Inspector General and an administrative service associate at $436,804. The additional $80,000 for other expenses would be included.

The residents group urging the community to provide supervisors with feedback about the proposal, Mill Valley Force for Racial Equity and Empowerment, or MVFREE, would like to see clarifications and revisions to the proposal that will go before the Board of Supervisors.

First, MVFREE said that the $708,000 proposed to fund the commission is insufficient and “reflects the bare minimum necessary” to support an Inspector General and commission operations, nor does it include any start-up costs associated with launching the commission.

Strong support for oversight structure

In a letter penned to the Board of Supervisors on Monday, MVFREE expressed its “strong support” for the oversight structure created by the COWG but said it still affords the Sheriff’s Office primary investigative authority over civilian complaints.

“The effectiveness and legitimacy of this oversight proposal will therefore depend heavily on the nature and extent of the IG and COC’s role in, and authority over, civilian complaints,” reads the letter.

Though the proposal empowers the Inspector General and COC to hire a contractor to conduct independent investigations, they have no enforcement authority for their findings and “the Sheriff is free to ignore them,” said MVFREE.

According to the grand jury report, the relationship between the Sheriff’s Office and Black residents of Marin City has not been a good one. Residents call their town a “training ground” for new deputies and claim that they are overpoliced as a result. Excessive stops, arrests, citations and warnings are routine, Black residents told the jury.

In 2006, another civil grand jury recommended to the Board of Supervisors that a sheriff review board be created. It was rejected by both the board and the sheriff.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors will consider the proposal at its June 13 meeting. Comments about the proposal can be submitted by email ahead of the meeting.

Katy St. Clair, Bay City News

Katy St. Clair got her start in journalism by working in the classifieds department at the East Bay Express during the height of alt weeklies, then sweet talked her way into becoming staff writer, submissions editor, and music editor. She has been a columnist in the East Bay Express, SF Weekly, and the San Francisco Examiner. Starting in 2015, she begrudgingly scaled the inverted pyramid at dailies such as the Vallejo Times-Herald, The Vacaville Reporter, and the Daily Republic. She has her own independent news site and blog that covers the delightfully dysfunctional town of Vallejo, California, where she also collaborates with the investigative team at Open Vallejo. A passionate advocate for people with developmental disabilities, she serves on both the Board of the Arc of Solano and the Arc of California. She lives in Vallejo.